U.S. Tax Information
Completing and Submitting Tax Forms
Below you will find basic information and resources about your tax filing obligations, how to complete and submit the correct tax forms on time, and how to pay the proper taxes—or better yet, receive a tax refund. Taxes are often complicated, even for those native to the United States. Please be advised that the ISSO staff does not specialize in international tax law and cannot answer specific questions regarding your individual tax filing requirements; therefore, we have prepared the following information to help get you started.
All international scholars and students in F-1 or J-1 status (as well as dependents in F-2 and J-2 status) who were physically present in the U.S. any time between January 1 and December 31 of a given year, must complete and submit some type of federal tax form for that year. For example, if you were physically present in the U.S. any time between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017, you must complete and submit some type of 2017 federal tax form.
International students and scholars in other immigration classifications may also be required to complete and submit tax forms. The number and type of form you must complete depend on whether you earned income during the year, the type of income you received, the length of time you have been physically present in the U.S., and other factors.
Determine Your Tax Residence Category
It’s important not to confuse immigration terms of “resident” and “nonresident” with taxpayer categories that have the same name. For tax purposes, residence is defined based on the Substantial Presence Test (SPT), which is independent from your immigration classification. The SPT is the calculation that the federal government uses to determine when non-resident aliens for immigration purposes have been in the United States long enough to be considered residents for tax purposes. The Foreign National Tax Resource (FNTR) system, a web-based tax return preparation system designed exclusively for international students, scholars, and their dependents, should help you determine your tax residence status.
Nonresidents (for tax purposes) are taxed only on their U.S., income and usually complete Forms 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ. While nonresidents are not required to file a federal or state tax return if their earned income amount is below the stated personal exemption amount, they are encouraged to file a return if taxes were withheld from their paycheck as they will likely receive a refund.
During the time individuals in F-1 and J-1 immigration status are “exempt individuals,” they will remain nonresidents for tax purposes even though they are present in the United States for 183 days or more. Once they exceed “exempt individual” status, days of physical presence will be counted and they may become residents for tax purposes.
If you qualify to file your tax forms as a nonresident, it is very likely that the FNTR will be able to help you prepare all of your tax forms. The ISSO will distribute a unique passcode each year that will enable international students and scholars to create a login in the FNTR system each year. Please contact the ISSO if you have questions regarding the passcode.
Residents (for tax purposes) are taxed by the U.S. on their worldwide income and generally complete the Form 1040-EZ or the 1040 and required schedule forms. Examples of a resident for tax purposes are:
- F and J students (and their dependents) who no longer qualify as “exempt individuals” as they have been physically present in the U.S. over five tax years
- J scholars (and their dependents) who no longer qualify as “exempt individuals” as they have been physically present in the U.S. for more than two out of every six tax years
- Foreign nationals in any other immigration classification who are physically present in the U.S. for 183 days or more in any three-year period
While FNTR will be able to offer you detailed information about your tax status and filing obligations as a Resident in their content library, the FNTR will not be able to assist you in preparing your actual tax forms. Please look for additional resources in Tax FAQs.
Dual Status Aliens
Dual status aliens are nonresidents for tax purposes for part of the year and residents for tax purposes for the rest of the year. A change in immigration status may affect an individual’s resident status, changing them from a nonresident (for tax purposes) to a resident (for tax purposes) in the middle of the year.
While FNTR will be able to offer you detailed information about your tax status and filing obligations as a Dual Status Alien in their content library, the FNTR will not be able to assist you in preparing your actual tax forms. Please look for additional resources in Tax FAQs.
If you worked in the U.S. and received taxable employment compensation, you must have a Social Security Number (SSN) for tax filing purposes. If you have ever been previously assigned a SSN, you may use the same number to file your tax forms. Please refer to the ISSO web page regarding how to apply for a Social Security Number.
If you have received taxable stipends or scholarships that are not considered employment compensation and you are not eligible to apply for an SSN, then you will need to apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). If you have a previously-assigned ITIN, you should use the same ITIN to submit your tax forms. If this is the first time you are submitting tax returns and an ITIN will be required in your case, FNTR will assist you in preparing the W-7 Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number in addition to any other required tax forms so that you can apply for the ITIN and file your tax return at the same time. Once you have prepared the W-7, you will then need to prepare documents to certify your “foreign status” and “identity” as required by W-7 instructions.
If you have not earned any income, nor received any taxable stipends or scholarships, and are only required to file IRS Form 8843, then neither a SSN nor an ITIN is required to file.
Collect Required Documents
If you earned or received income in the U.S., you are required to gather official documentation from various sources in order to complete the tax forms. Sources of U.S. income may include on-campus employment, scholarships, fellowships, graduate assistantships, stipends, practical or academic training, and any compensation received for labor. “Income” is not limited to wages paid to the individual in cash, but also includes that portion of a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship that is applied to housing and meal expenses. Some examples of this official documentation are a Form W-2 from your employer, Form 1042-S from Boston University and/or another academic institution you attended in a given year, Form 1099 from your bank, or any other forms showing income.
If you received taxable income during a given year from Boston University, you should have already received a Form W-2 from BU and/or any other U.S. employer showing the wages you earned and the taxes withheld. If you have any questions regarding your Form W-2 from BU, please contact the BU Payroll Office at 617-353-2270.
If you’re a student or a scholar who received a scholarship or fellowship from BU or you’re claiming a tax treaty in a given year, you should receive a Form 1042-S from the BU Payroll office showing the amount paid in mid-March. You will not be able to begin completing your tax forms until after you have received the Form 1042-S. If you have any questions regarding your Form 1042-S, please contact the BU Payroll Office at 617-353-2270.
Using Thomson Reuters’ Foreign National Tax Resource
In order to facilitate the filing of tax forms, the ISSO has purchased a web-based tax return preparation system that is designed exclusively for international students, scholars, and their dependents. The Thomson Reuters’ Foreign National Tax Resource (FNTR) is online tax preparation software that will help you understand your nonresident alien tax obligations and to complete many of the forms including federal 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ forms and the Massachusetts State Form 1NR/PY (if required depending on your individual tax status and income earned). FNTR also offers an extensive online searchable content library to give you general information about U.S. tax withholdings, tax filing obligations, and tax treaties, and detailed information on whether you’re required to file a tax return as a dual status filer or resident for tax purposes.
Thomson Reuters’ FNTR will assist most international students and scholars with the preparation of their nonresident tax forms. However, there may be circumstances in which individuals will not be able to use the FNTR. Consulting the information on the Thomson Reuters’ FNTR site and entering basic information into the system will help you determine whether you’re eligible to use FNTR.
Please note that if you are required to submit a State of Massachusetts tax return, the FNTR will help you prepare the appropriate forms for submission.
Tax FAQs and Additional Resources
Read on for more information.